Flying your family airplane is not the typical way a student gets to college for the first time. Then again, much of missionary pilot Jeff Burnham’s life may seem atypical.
As a high school senior, Burnham first heard of Liberty University from his mother, Gracia Burnham, after she told her family’s story during Missions Emphasis Week at the school. Gracia and her late husband Martin were missionaries in the Philippines when they were taken hostage by the militant Abu Sayyaf Group for 376 days from 2001-2002 before Martin was killed in a firefight.
At the time of Gracia Burnham’s visit, Liberty had just started an aeronautics major with an emphasis in missions aviation, and she encouraged her son to check it out. He attended a College for a Weekend and was sure Liberty was the place for him. He flew his father’s plane to Liberty from his home in Kansas in 2005, with his family following by car.
Jeff Burnham graduated with an aeronautics degree in May 2009, with hopes of working for a major airline. But God had other plans. He answered the call to missions and was in Botswana, Africa the following year serving with Flying Mission Services, which provides air ambulance service to the critically ill. His wife, Sarah, and 4-month-old son, Tristan, joined him.
“Once I got here, I realized how well Liberty actually prepared me to be (in Africa) not only in my aeronautical knowledge, but also in how prepared I was for cross-cultural interaction,” Jeff Burnham said.
“I look back on my time at LU as the best of my life so far. The phenomenal education quality, practical experience, and Godly examples of professionalism and integrity displayed by my professors have been the foundation for my career in aviation. I am eternally grateful to those men who spent so much time helping me to grow spiritually and professionally over the years. I am convinced that no other college in the world has better faculty than LU.”
When he graduated, he not only left behind his mentors — he left his plane, too. The Burnham family donated it to Liberty.
“I have hundreds of hours flying that airplane and it is very dear to my heart. I hope the LU students who fly it now are loving it as much as I did.”
Follow the Burnhams on their family’s blog, jeffandsarahburnham.blogspot.com.